Tomorrow Max starts at his new school. I left last week's teacher meeting more nervous than when I went in. I had high expectations as the administration and nurse had been saying all the right things. Tables are washed after snacks and meals. Hands are washed before and after eating. The Epi-pen would be kept with the teacher at all times. The nurse is there full-time.
I got nervous though when right after we sat down, Max's new teacher (Mrs. S.) asked, "So he is allergic to peanuts. Does that mean peanut butter and things with peanuts in them as well?" I thought "Oh no, she doesn't quite get it."
"Do you want his place at the table washed before he eats?" she asked. I said I thought tables were already washed after snacks and meals. The other Kindergarten teacher (Ms. G.) spoke up and explained what they did last year. She had a child in her class the previous year with multiple allergies and was able to go through the table and hand washing process in detail. I added that if people didn't wash their hands Max would remind him. I explained Max's awareness of his own allergies and his defensiveness which can come off as being rude.
When we got to Max's milk allergy Mrs. S. asked, "So what about yogurt or those yogurt drinks, ice cream, he can't have those?" "No," I replied, "or Goldfish crackers or anything that contains milk."
"What will happen if he touches milk?" asked Ms. G, "We have lots of milk spills."
"He will get localized hives." They all seemed rather alarmed at this. I explained that they would need to wash the skin with soap and water. And observe him for other symptoms. Just getting on his skin wouldn't necessarily send him into anaphylaxis. I realize this may be the case for other children but in our case if it's not ingested it had never led us down an Epi pen path.
We covered much, much more about food allergies and Max's needs in order to keep him safe. By the end, Mrs. S. looked beaten down. Which made me more nervous. In hindsight, it has to be hard on teachers. The weight of responsibility for so many children's safety. To have a child who needs extra precautions must sometimes seem overwhelming. Especially when that child is allergic to something in every other child's lunch. I know how I felt when Max was first diagnosed "How am I going to do this?" She must in someways feel the same.
The extraordinary part was what happened when I got home. The school nurse called me. She wanted to know how I felt about the meeting. I relayed my nervousness and we went over the points we felt needed reinforced with Mrs. S. I felt I had found an ally.
It seems we covered everything to keep Max physically safe. But I am still worried about the emotional part. I wonder how much his food allergies will make him feel left out this year. I didn't feel I got into this as much during the meeting. Ah, well, it is a process.
I'm less nervous about the food allergy part now. My nerves today are probably more centered around everything other parents are nervous about. Will his teacher like him/understand where he is coming from? Will he get along with his classmates? Will he like it and embrace learning in a new environment?
I guess the worries never stop, no matter if your child has a food allergy or not.